The Big 12’s three-month expansion exploration saga appears to be grinding to an anti-climactic conclusion. The league’s presidents will meet at Dallas Fort/Worth International Airport for a working dinner on Sunday night and an all-day meeting from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Monday. Interviews with sources from the Big 12, the television industry and schools involved in the expansion process indicate the league’s most likely outcome is not expanding.
While that’s not a definitive consensus, a new development with the league’s television partners has made not expanding the most likely scenario. Multiple sources indicated there have been discussions with the Big 12’s TV partners to pay the league not to expand. The purpose of the payment would be to eliminate the pro rata clause in the TV contract—which the TV officials consider a loophole—that enables the league to receive nearly $25 million annually for every school it adds. The willingness of ESPN and Fox to discuss paying to eliminate that clause and end future potential expansion drama in upcoming years makes not expanding the most likely conclusion.
“If they put more money up and bought out that pro rata clause, we’ll likely keep ourselves at 10,” speculated a high-ranking Big 12 source.
While the possibility of extra TV money will be discussed this weekend, it’s unlikely any final agreement will be reached by Monday. The league’s TV partners are not expected to be present at the meetings. However, the Big 12 has been in constant contact with ESPN and Fox as it figures out the contractual logistics of bringing back the Big 12 title game. That gives the league and TV officials an organic outlet for communication and an incentive to stay at the table and figure out a solution that works for all sides. (The league’s current television agreement and grant of rights runs through 2025, so they are all stuck with each other for a while).
An announcement of the league’s expansion plans is expected around 5 p.m. central time on Monday. The Big 12 is expected to inform leaders at the remaining 11 expansion candidates who interviewed for spots in the league of their decision at that time. There’s a small possibility for an announcement of an amended television deal, but that’s considered unlikely.
Multiple sources suggested that things could change once the presidents get together. This is the Big 12, where the unexpected and bizarre have become normal. Sources urged caution with definitive declarations about a league that can never seem to make up its own mind.
Also, it’s impossible to predict the group dynamic of the Big 12 presidents. The reasons the league initially decided to expand haven’t meaningfully changed. The league wanted more money, more stability and, of course, to get past the infamous “psychological disadvantage” Oklahoma President David Boren said characterized the league. But with BYU fizzling out as an expansion candidate and Oklahoma’s board putting pressure on him, Boren’s interest in expansion appears to have waned.
Since that became apparent, there’s been little optimism about the league expanding. And that’s the prevailing attitude in and around the conference heading into the meetings on Sunday and Monday.